Feds seek comments on forced labour report

by Emily Atkins

The federal government is seeking comments on a new report highlighting what it learned a from Canadian organizations about the effects of forced labour.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates there are nearly 25 million victims of forced labour worldwide. Of those, the ILO says 16 million are exploited in the private sector doing domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and four million are in forced labour imposed by state authorities.

The government has made a commitment to ensure that goods produced by forced labour do not enter Canada and that Canadian companies operating around the world observe responsible business practices.

“Forced labour is unacceptable in Canada or anywhere in the world,” said labour minister Seamus O’Regan.

“Our government will eliminate forced labour from our supply chains and make sure that Canadian businesses do not contribute to human rights abuses.”

The Labour Exploitation in Global Supply Chains: What We Heard Report is the result of consultations with stakeholders. They made it clear  that labour exploitation, including forced labour, is unacceptable and that the Government of Canada should take further action to prevent it.

Participants agreed that the goal of any legislation should be to increase business awareness around forced labour and to improve practices. There was also a general consensus that legislation should be seen as one piece of a broader approach to addressing labour exploitation in supply chains.

While participants did note short-term costs associated with addressing forced labour, the long-term benefits were highlighted, particularly as more and more consumers are prioritizing ethical and transparent businesses.

Stakeholders are invited to review the Report and share any additional feedback by April 8, 2022.

Forced labour is a complex problem that requires considerable work and collaboration between governments, industry and civil society. The International Labour Organization defines forced labour as all work or service which is demanded from any person under threat of a penalty and for which the person is not a willing participant. Signs of forced labour often include restriction of movement, withholding of wages, charging of prohibitive recruitment fees to at-risk groups, and intimidation or threats.

Over the past two years, the Government has introduced a number of initiatives to help tackle labour exploitation in global supply chains, such as a prohibition under the Customs Tariff on the importation of goods produced in whole or in part by forced labour and an updated Code of Conduct for Procurement to outline expectations for suppliers regarding human and labour rights.

The Government of Canada is also examining global best practices and analyzing key elements that are often part of supply chain legislation, in order to determine the appropriate approach for the Canadian context.

The initial consultations that formed the backbone of the report were conducted between May and July 2019, through an online survey and roundtable meetings.